By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s early in the winter driving season, but snow and ice are already testing our roadways.

Another example of that happened this morning on Interstate 35-W south of Owatonna.

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Twenty passenger cars and 6 semis that jackknifed were all part of a crash that closed down a section of the interstate.

Fortunately, no one was hurt.

But it’s a reminder of the distance semis and cars need to have between each other, to be safe.

According to the Department of Public Safety about 7,500 crashes between 2014-2018 involved snow, ice, slush or wet conditions.

“The winter adds another element to speed and space management. We have to decrease our speed and increase our space,” Mark Chlebecek said.

Chlebecek and his fellow instructors train about 500 drivers a year at Heavy Metal Trucking in Newport.

They’ll come from all over to learn how to operate the largest vehicles on our roadways with the belief that if you can drive a semi during a Minnesota winter, you can drive one anywhere.

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One of the main differences between a car and a semi when braking in winter weather, is that a semi weighs about 80,000 pounds fully-loaded so it takes much longer to stop.

“So at 70 mph that can be 900 feet. That’s 3 football fields,” Chlebecek said.

It’s just one of many safety stats he preaches. Chlebecek said semis should be at least 7 seconds behind the vehicle in front of them. And vehicles should be at least 3 seconds behind a semi.

“The key is if you can stop without skidding, then you can always maintain control,” Chlebecek said.

He also teaches his students to be prepared to be cut off by frustrated winter drivers.

“It’s amazing, it says student drive on the truck, but they’ll whip right in front of you,” Chlebecek said.

“Learning how to drive manual for the first time, stick. That is a challenge,” student Grant Royseth said.

Royseth is almost done with his training. He has seen the damage icy roads can do to a semi that’s 70 feet long.

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“I’ve noticed how people aren’t comfortable driving around a semi or just don’t know. That space in front of the semi isn’t for personal vehicles,” Royseth said.

John Lauritsen